What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease caused by a deficiency or failure to use or produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Diabetes causes high blood sugar which can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. The body needs insulin to use sugar as an energy source.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and kills beta cells in the pancreas. Little or no insulin is released into the body. As a result, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used for energy. About 10% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood or during the teenage years, but can also develop in adulthood.

Type 1 diabetes is still treated with insulin. Meal planning also helps keep blood sugar at the right levels.

Type 1 diabetes also includes latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA), a term used to describe the small number of people with apparent type 2 diabetes who seem to have immune-mediated loss of beta cells from the pancreas.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough or cannot properly use the released insulin (insulin insensitivity). As a result, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used for energy. About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes develops more often in adults, but children can be affected.

Depending on it’s severity, type 2 diabetes can be managed through physical activity and meal planning or may require the use of medication and / or insulin to control blood sugar more effectively.

Chaînons d'ADN et sang - Diabète

Symptoms of diabetes

Many signs and symptoms can indicate diabetes.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urges to urinate
  • Weight change (gain or loss)
  • Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent or recurrent infections
  • Cuts and bruises are slow to heal
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to contact a healthcare professional immediately. Even if you have no symptoms, if you are 40 years of age or older, you should still get medical advice since many people with type 2 diabetes present no symptoms.

Type 2 diabetes: Am I at risk?

Anyone over the age of 40 should be tested for diabetes every three years. Anyone with one or more risk factors should be tested more frequently and / or start regular screening earlier. The risk factors are:

  • A diabetic parent, brother or sister;
  • Belonging to a high-risk group (of African, Arab, Asian, Hispanic, Aboriginal or South Asian origin; low socio-economic status);
  • Health complications associated with diabetes such as damage to the eyes, nerves or kidneys;
  • Having given birth to a baby weighing more than four kilograms (9 pounds) at birth or having suffered from gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy);
  • Having been diagnosed with prediabetes (decreased glucose tolerance or decreased blood sugar on an empty stomach);
  • High blood pressure;
  • High cholesterol;
  • Being overweight, especially if this weight is mainly carried around the belly;
  • Having been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome;
  • Having been diagnosed with acanthosis nigricans (darkened patches of skin);
  • Having been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders: schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder;
  • Having been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea;
  • Having a history of using glucocorticoids.

What to do if you believe you have diabetes?

If you suffer from one or more of the symptoms, a consultation with your doctor is essential. Only a blood test in the laboratory can diagnose diabetes.

Médecin posant un diagnostique - Diabète

How is diabetes diagnosed?

Different tests are used to diagnose diabetes. The amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood is measured in mmol / L.

Blood sugar test– on an empty stomach

You should not eat or drink anything except water at least eight hours before this test. A test result of 7.0 mmol / L or higher indicates diabetes.

Random blood sugar test

This test can be done at any time, regardless of when you last took it. A result of 11.0 mmol / L or greater, associated with other symptoms of diabetes, indicates diabetes.


This test can be done at any time, no matter when it was done last. A test result of 6.5% or more (in adults)- and in the absence of factors that affect the accuracy of A1C - indicates diabetes.

Oral glucose tolerance test

You will be given a special sweet drink before this blood test. A test result of 11.1 mmol / L or more, taken two hours after drinking the sugary drink, indicates diabetes.

A second test should be done in all cases (unless you have acute signs and symptoms).